Geopolitics

Turkey’s Erdogan warns Greece to demilitarize Aegean islands

An intra-NATO conflict emerges?

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday warned Greece to demilitarize islands in the Aegean Sea, saying he was “not joking” and posting tweets in Greek and English, in a marked harshening of rhetoric against Turkey’s neighbor and historic regional rival.

Turkey says Greece has been building a military presence in violation of treaties that guarantee the unarmed status of the Aegean islands. It argues the islands were ceded to Greece on the condition they remained demilitarized.

Athens counters that the islands, which have been garrisoned for decades and lie within close striking distance of a large Turkish landing fleet, can’t be left undefended.

“We invite Greece to stop arming the islands that have non-military status and to act in accordance with international agreements,“ Erdogan said on the final day of military exercises taking place near Izmir, on Turkey’s Aegean coast. “I’m not joking, I’m speaking seriously. This nation is determined.”

Greece and Turkey are NATO allies, but have a history of disputes over a range of issues, including mineral exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and rival claims in the Aegean Sea.

The two countries came close to war three times in the past half century, the last being in 1996 over ownership of an uninhabited eastern Aegean islet. But Ankara has recently been questioning Greece’s sovereignty over large, inhabited Greek islands — Rhodes, Kos and Lesbos, for example, would meet the description of “militarized” islands.

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